Thursday, December 28, 2006

#429 Building

They said that the smoking ban was going to devastate our economy. Who would have thought it would spawn a mini-construction industry boom? It was funny to watch the progression. It was kind of like a toddler testing a rule. How much can I get away with before you slap me down. First, the taverns built a little lean-to arrangement. It was the designated 25 feet from the entrance to the tavern and it was not enclosed. Okay so far. The letter of the law was honored. But like many things in this country the spirit of the law was totally ignored. Situational ethics took over and the law, like always, was ever so ineffective when it came to personal decisions, proving once again that you can’t legislate morality. Smoking in an enclosed area joined casual marijuana use and moonshining as a great American illegal pastime. The buildings continue to get more and more enclosed. I drove by one tavern the other day. It used to be a fenced yard with a lean-to. Then they put up one of those metal garage things. Kind of like you see over RVs in the country, only without the blue tarp. The tavern’s fence has been filled in too. It’s a pretty darn solid wood fence now. A little sheetrock and texture and it would make the leap from fence to wall in less time than it takes to hack out a puff. And now it looks like the tavern has put up a metal windscreen of the same material as the shed. To keep out those high swirling 60 mile-an-hour gusts. Of course it goes without saying the place is loaded with those propane standup heaters you see at all the outdoor restaurants down by the bay in the summer. It just goes to show, where there’s a will there’s a way. And the will to poison yourself till you die an excruciating death from lung cancer or emphysema is a strong will indeed. But at least the non-smokers don’t have to be punished by going out to the shed. Only the people who voluntarily want to punish themselves. Hey Dad, can I cut my own willow switch, can I, huh, huh, can I? We’ve come a long way from four out of five doctors recommend Camels. Now the one doctor that survived is treating the widows of all the rest. And they’re still smoking too. Somehow they got the chance-in-a-million gene that makes them into the one anecdotal person smokers are always pointing out: Well my Aunt Millie smoked three packs a day and she lived to be a hundred. Didn’t even cough. The really bad thing is the bureaucratic building departments are going to have to be expanded to cover the enforcement of what is and what isn’t a building. Does four walls a building make? A roof and wind screen? An enclosed heating source? Or is it like a church? Is the thing that defines it not the building but the congregation itself? A common spirit. Yeah. That’s the new Native American cigarette isn’t it? Spirit. You know, four out of five shamans recommend Spirits.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

#428 Bugs

This is the season for parties. I find it interesting. It’s the time of year when people are most inclined to be getting social diseases. You know, like the flu, and colds, and typhoid and stuff, and yet, this is the season when society demands we spend the most time together. The commitments of our work and friends and family require that we lock ourselves up in warm rooms together. The weather dictates that we prevent those rooms from recharging with fresh air. Then we turn those rooms into the perfect bacterial medium by making them moist with the steam of cooking and hot toddies. We lower our resistance with mass consumption of alcohol and the shortening of our sleep periods as the stress of the holidays has us burning the candle at three ends. And then we go to other parties. Cause heck, if you catch a bug, it’s only part of the giving season to spread it to someone else. Some say it’s nature’s way of tuning up humanity to face the next wave of superbugs. But it’s not working. A new bug will rage through a party a lot quicker than any one family member can develop a resistance to it. And if you do develop a resistance, it doesn’t help you friends and relatives anyhow. It just insures you survive with minimal discomfort. It’s not like you can cough disease resistance on your party buddy. But ‘tis the season to make it easy to cough the disease itself. So anyhow, I’m at this party, doing my best to not breathe my fellow partygoers air and the waiter who was waiting on us does a great job. Afterwards I told him I thought his tip was included in the bill that was being sent to my company. He said, it better be or his company would be getting a memo. Oh no! Not a memo. A fate worse than death. Nothing I hate worse than being in the heat of battle, bullets flying all around, people dying at my feet and suddenly I get a MEMO! It’s a sad commentary on the state of our decadent society when the threat of a memo looms larger than, say, the threat of an invasion or the onslaught of the black plague. Oh yeah, a scathing memo. I think that was the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. Pestilence, war, famine and memo writers. Run everyone, take cover, make peace with your god, here comes the fourth horseman of the apocalypse¾and he’s got a memo! Actually, memos can be a good thing, sometimes it’s the absence thereof that can cause a problem. I once went to a housewarming party, didn’t get the memo that the costume theme had been changed from “famous divas” to “football greats” and found out it’s no fun to be dressed like a woman when everyone else is dressed like an NFL linebacker. Funny too, because I had been feeling a little sick and almost didn’t go to the party. But as long as I was there feeling like an idiot I figured what the heck. So I went up to the host and hostess and gave them the flu. A raging fever warms a house doesn’t it?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

#426 Big Chat

So yesterday, I ordered something on line. It seems like in the old days when you would ordered something over the phone, things happened fairly quickly. Then they cut back on labor and the phonetree choice menu things developed and you found yourself spending a lot of time punching numbers for options, many times hitting the wrong number and ending up in phone tree limbo. All that space in phone tree limbo, all that time and emptiness? That’s what they used for the internet. Then they perfected that a little. Now when you receive a bankcard in the mail and want to activate it you can actually phone in and do so with little or no human intervention. Of course, it involves punching in a lot of numbers again, like your social security and your address and your home phone and etc. But still, except at that part at the end when they say they are activating and you have to listen to that long phone message about the other products that are available from your fine bankcard company like, say, insurance for the unpaid balance on your card, it’s not too bad. One time I hung up during that message, and guess what? My card got activated anyhow. Funny, I’ve never balked at punching in my social security number over the phone but when Comcast asked for it in a chatroom, I felt a little apprehensive. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what happened. I decide I wanted to sign up for a Comcast service. I fill out a questionnaire over various online pages, and finally get to the end when a screen comes on telling me my order will be finalized in a live chat with a Comcast representative. And I must say this is where it got bizarre. If I were talking to a live rep all my questions could have been answered quickly. Instead I had to act like I was in a teenage chatroom and type in all my communications. So even though Chat was less efficient, when you answered something you had it nailed down in print. The efficiency for Comcast was at the two delay points, waiting for my new number and waiting for my scheduling date. And during those two delays I could tell my chatroom partner was at another chat. You know. You can just tell. She comes back with her words in disarray and her emoticons a little disheveled. But the weirdest thing was when we came to a big contractual commitment section and she said after the chat she would send me an important confirmation email. It was formal, serious and contractual and she said after our chat. Hmm. Chat used to mean light and casual. I’m having a chat with a young lady. Lawyers don’t chat in the courtroom. Doctors don’t chat when they get you to sign the malpractice release. Homeland security doesn’t chat. Couldn’t they call it a discussion page or an order room? Chat just seems so, well, frivolous. Bundy, your execution is in 3 hours. Tell us your request for your last meal. Then we can chat...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

#427 Buy This

As we near the end of the year it behooves many of us to find a time for quiet contemplation where we can review the events of the last twelve months and reflect on all we have to be thankful for. And then there’s me. I have to say, as we turn the corner of the first decade of the 21st century, things are as weird as ever. Like we have more spam than you can shake a stick at. Too bad. Spam, a once honorable mélange of discarded pork parts, has degenerated into my most persistent morning annoyance. Yesterday I got 20 emails. 19 of them were spam. I’m a little ahead of the curve. Those in the know now estimate that 9 out of 10 emails are spam. And they seem to be two kinds. Picture image spam, which slips through spam filters by fooling them into thinking it’s an image without writing, and text spam, which comes from high-jacked mailing lists from other computer users. In order to block this spam I would have to block all my mail from friends and relatives. My picture spams usually are for Viagra and suchlike. Prescription drugs from less from reputable sources. Always a good risk. Let’s see, I think I’ll swallow a completely unregulated, untaxed, unlicensed, and untraceable-as-to-its-origin pill. I’m sure there won’t be any ill effects. It’s not like just cause I can’t sue them I shouldn’t trust in the basic honesty I expect from someone who solicits me in illicit ways on the internet. That’s a lot to swallow. But boy, that differently spelled Viagra sure looks cheap. Hate to pass up a too-good-to-be-true bargain from a complete stranger. The other spam, the highjacked mailing list spam, comes from people posing as investment opportunity purveyors. These guys start the spam with Hi I’m so and so, then hype a specific penny stock that you just can’t miss on. When I first started to get these, I wondered who would be dumb enough to buy something suggested by an advisor you don’t know, who pretends that you do know them, and then uses that pretense to ask you to lay down money for stock in a company you know absolutely nothing about. And you can’t reply to the email to order this stock. You have to actually buy it yourself on the stock market. So you have to at least be savvy enough to have a broker or an e-trade account. And dumb enough to do the deal. The spammer makes his money by sending out all these free suggestions to buy stock to jillions of complete strangers. Enough gullible strangers respond to drive up the price of the penny stock. The spammer then sells the illusionary investment and makes up to a 5 to 6 percent return in a two-day period. All for starting a rumor. With the engine of spam commerce that costs him nothing. It’s nice to know in this culturally sensitive 21st century, PT Barnum’s “There’s a sucker born every minute” is still true. So is it kosher to fleece sheep with pork products?
America, ya gotta love it.

#424 Body of Work

So when I was at this party the other night I reflected that the biggest challenge we face at holiday times is the threat of cross contamination. No, I’m not talking about accidentally becoming a Christian with all the commercial nativity exposure; I’m talking about food born illness. Food born illness is second only to the flu in debilitating diseases of the holiday season. Forget about peace on earth and lines at the supermall. Pieces of toxic chicken wings and lines at the lavatory are more to the point. During the holidays many people are exposed to the anatomical reality that their bodies are like the post office at Christmas. They have an input function and an output function and both of them are being co-opted to do the outputting. I don’t know about you but there is nothing more festive after a great Christmas party than going home and warmly embracing the thundermug all night. Red and green are Christmas colors, perhaps because of the mucus-laced chunks one hurls after tainted shrimp cocktail and mint eggnogs. Holiday eating increases your risk: There’s the number of parties that feature sneeze-guard free grazing on rented banquet tables of food; The number of overwhelmed guest bathrooms that feature one tiny guest towel and a bar of untouched expensively-sculpted guest soap. It’s no wonder you have a recipe for gastric disaster. Forget about the baked salmon, it’s the baking at Sam and Ella’s you have to worry about. I don’t trust my own self all the time in the cross-contaminatory kitchen, why I would subject myself to the possibility of ptomaine shows what a powerful hankering I must have for tiny crockpot meatballs. It’s funny. Hell, when I tried to sell my fudge commercially I had to go through amazing regulatory hoops. Commercial equipment that couldn’t be contaminated with any—God forbid—commingled home cooking. Extensive test in three languages about the ins and outs of food preparation and handling. Hot temperature optimums, cold temperature optimums, how to bring something from hot to cold safely to keep it out of the toxic danger zone. But some ambitious unlicensed semi-cook can have a holiday party, invite more people in one night than the average home kitchen sees in a year, rent a couple of tired old chafing dishes from the party rental place, then skimp on sterno so the hot dishes quickly plummet to ptomaine tepid. Voila, suddenly the county’s sewer systems are taxed to capacity by a chain of porcelain-packing events featuring the three horsemen of the gut-pocalypse, Ralph, Wolf, and that toilet-mouthed rapper, Upchuck-a-lot. Hors d’ oeuvre, by the way, is a French word that means outside of work. Hors means outside, oeuvre, in this case, work. You know, kind of like when you go to a party and are outside of work the next day¾ when you call in sick.
America, ya gotta love it.

#423 Bells of Coli

It’s always a surprise when I read about a restaurant getting in the E coli contamination news again. E coli always sounds like some kind of internet virus doesn’t it? I mean, you’d think they’d have this stuff under control by now. This time it was Taco Bell. Now first off, let me say that a Mexican restaurant that uses the slogan “Run for the Border” is already pushing the envelope. Invoking border crossings is bad enough considering our illegal immigrant issue, but using any permutation of the word “run” in conjunction with food legendary for causing gas, bloating, and, yes, loosened fecal matter, is probably not the smartest of marketing decisions. That and using a talking ratdog as a corporate spokes-animal and you can tell they’re thinking out of the box, or thinking “outside the bun,” as they put it. Does someone thinking inside the bun have their head up their, um, hamburger? In any event, the E coli bug was inside the Taco Bells. I thought I heard one news story say one of the afflicted Taco Bells was in Bellevue. Hmm, Taco Bellevue—do you have to eat burritos with a cloth napkin? And tacos with your pinky finger extended? The Taco Bells with the problem have traced it to the green onions they got. Perfect institutional American cooking irony. Probably the only fresh, uncooked, healthy ingredient in Taco Bell is the green onion. And that’s what caused the E coli outbreak. Worse, the onions came from the same place that caused the recent spinach scare, an industrial plant-processing plant in New Jersey. Who got, they think, the onions and spinach from the same farms in California. Industrial sabotage? Disgruntled migrant worker with an asinine ax to grind? More likely inadequate porta-potties in the field. When I was a teenager, I worked in the fields with migrant laborers. You had to hike a mile to take a load off. And since you were paid piecework that meant a load off your wallet as well. And the handwashing facilities were nowhere close to that lean-to over a hole in the ground. Close being defined as within a 5-mile radius. Let’s just say the incentive to just squat and go was high. Green onions are hard to clean because they grow in layers and any layer can be contaminated at any stage of the growing period. The E coli will just lurk there until the next unsuspecting taco. What’s really weird to me though, is that produce from California, the real garden state, gets shipped all the way to New Jersey, the pretend garden state, to get processed and is then shipped out to fast food restaurant in every other state. A whole shipload of shipping if you ask me. And yet, that still makes things economical enough to put out a burrito for 99 cents. Is this a great country or what? Kinda makes you not want to run for the border. Quiero Montezuma’s Value Meal?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

#422 Balls of Jolly

So I was at a party the other night. Pretty swank affair, anyone who was anyone was there. The great thing about the party was room after room of hors d’oeuvres. Now let me say, I’m a sucker for hors d’oeuvres. The idea of grazing from dish to dish really satisfies both the hunter and the gatherer in me. One should always be sensitive to one’s gatherer side. Game may be high in protein, but it’s also quick, while berries are high in both energy-packed carbohydrates and vitamins and, um, slow. Even many of today’s clinically obese un-exercised children could outrun a berry. The many tables of hors d’oeuvres were just the ticket. You could graze in enough different places it didn’t look like you were snack loitering. Usually when you go to an event and they feature a variety of snacks they provide a little plate at the beginning of the snack table. Finger food follows: Little quiches maybe. A cocktail sausage. If you’re lucky a crock-pot of meatballs. And if you’re really lucky a tureen of iced shrimp. Occasionally, and this seems to be an hors d’oeuvre trend lately, they’ll have a little spanakopita pastry. It makes for a truly international table. Italian pizza-flavored French quiches. Shrimp with Asian cocktail sauce, and Greek style spanakopita. I especially like the filling. Nothing says Greek like a stuffed spanakopita. The challenge comes at the end. Usually these parties also have nowhere to sit. Or nowhere that the stupid early birds haven’t already wormed their way into. And the big problem is on your way to the hors d’ buffet you gathered up your second complimentary glass of hosted wine. It’s been okay as long as you can move it with you along the table while you figure out how to geometrically balance your tiny floppy plate to hold as many hors d’ offerings as possible. Now, however, you’re at the end of the table, wine in one hand, plate of food in the other and voila, no third hand to actually eat with. Grazing is only fine if you do it politely, with your hands, no one expects you to bend your head down and actually bite your food off the plate. So here’s my solution. Forget the plate and take multiple trips through the hors d’ line. Use the opportunity to chat up people as they go through. Schmooze while you cruise. Then you have one hand free for your beverage and one hand free to pluck and eat the morsels of goodness, hot, chilled, or room temperature cheese, right off the serving dish. With any luck, no stupid girl will bring a stewing dog to the event and shed dog hair into the meatballs. One did to the party the other night. All I could do was imagine the little yapper on a spit at Costco. Still, it wasn’t the dog’s fault, it was its oblivious codependent canine coddler. But I’ll cut her a little peace-on-earth season slack. Dogs were human’s original hunting companions. Maybe she brought it to sniff out the best holiday cheeseballs.
America, ya gotta love it.

#421 Brick and Mortal

So what’s the big deal about brick oven pizza? That’s what I asked myself the other day, and then it occurred to me. Lately America seems to have this obsession with reclaiming primitive cooking methods. From barbeque, to cooking pigs in the ground, to the latest craze, wood-fired pizza. Now I hate to be the kid telling the emperor that not only don’t his new clothes fit, they lack something in the coverage department, but really, has anyone ever had a wood-fire pizza that wasn’t burnt somewhere? Some part of it that wasn’t a little too crispy, and some part that wasn’t a little too raw? Admit it, I don’t care how sophisticated the oven, how good the chef, or how kiln-dried the freaking wood, wood-fired cooking is a primitive cooking method. That’s why grandma was happy to switch to an even-burning gas stove. Apple pies are hard enough without one side flaming up and then reduced to a pile of ash. And gas, for all its environmental problems when we harvest it from the ground, is certainly no worse than burning trees when it comes to greenhouse emissions. The CO2 generated from burning a couple of hunks of forest, just to make a pizza for god’s sake, is enough to make Northface-clad eco-nuts get heavy metal poisoning from the irony. By the way, polar fleece is made from polyester, and polyester comes from oil. Just a little heads up fellow lovers of the forest. Wool is a lot more eco-friendly. Except for that part about clearing the land so the sheep have a place to feed. Damn. It’s so hard to cut a low eco-damage profile. But back to the main point, primitive cooking methods are just that—primitive. It would be like skipping that flu shot and asking for a shaman rattle wave instead. Or eating mercury to stave off a cold. I mean really, there was a reason we progressed to methods of cooking that conveyed a more even level of heat—not the least of which was salmonella, ptomaine and gastroenteritis. Note to all wood-fired food lovers. The average life expectancy in the years when wood-fired cooking was popular was about 35. It’s true not many folks got cancer and heart disease back then, but it’s not because the cooking was better, it’s because the food poisoning was worse. Next time you go to Costco and see those dozens of chickens twisting on the rotisserie, reflect on the fact that if you were trying to do the same thing over an open cookfire in the forest, chances are good you’d be hiking home with your sphincters clenched on both ends. And that’s not the kind of crampons anyone wants in the snow. So the next time you see a restaurant advertising primitive cooking, beware. Rabbit on a stick may have been a connoisseur’s delight back in the days of Og and Grog, but tularemia is a painful and debilitating disease. So tell me, when they’re cooking a rotisserie rabbit on a spit inside that brick oven, is it then called a brick spithouse?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

#425 Bahai on Life

It’s Christmastime again and that means one thing—War on Earth. Every year, even when people try to do what’s right, the talk show idiots do their best to blow everything out of reconcilable proportion and pit the adversaries against each other in a scorched earth policy of whatever gets ratings. The flap this time was over a bunch of Christmas trees at SeaTac airport. A Jewish Rabbi suggested to SeaTac that they put up an 8-foot menorah to include Jewish people in the SeaTac holiday expenditures. Expenditures, by the way, that are subsidized by public funding. He kind of threatened to sue if they didn’t. They decided that if they did the menorah they would have to do every other religious icon as well, and having finally been successful in banning the Moonies for homeland security reasons, they decided just to remove the trees. Those pine needles are such a mess anyhow. The press picked the whole thing up and soon there was that whole war-on-earth thing happening. It’s funny because both the Port and the rabbi behaved in a reasonable fashion. In fact, soon after the story broke, the rabbi came forward expressing dismay that the trees were removed. Everybody should be able to share in the giving season he said. The Port once again expressed that it wanted to come up with a thoughtful response to honoring everyone but in the meantime, it was probably best to just remove the trees. Also because they couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of decorations depicting all other religious celebrations. I mean, an 8-foot menorah is hard enough. A giant Buddha and a many-armed statue of Shiva may come a little steep. Not to mention that whole houseful of Shinto gods the Japanese like to honor. And Kwanzaa. I’m always at a quandary with Kwanzaa. The rabbi said he was worried everyone would think Jews were the Grinch. Hah, everyone who’s read Dr Seuss knows grinches are from Uzbekistan. Once again everyone missed the point. The Christmas tree is not a Christian symbol. It’s pure pagan. The Christmas tree predates Christ himself by centuries. Heck the three wise men didn’t even bring pine scent as one of their air freshener gifts to the nativity stable. And myrrh and frankincense aren’t in that little tree you can hang from your rear view mirror. So for years and years Christians have been erecting a pagan tree at Christmas. And calling the pagan old man winter Santa Claus. But he’s still a pagan and the trees are still pagan. Just because you have a Christian wedding in the middle of Stonehenge doesn’t change its historical origin. So here’s my solution: Spiritual unity for all, like the Bahai faith. Bring back the trees. And put little inexpensive decorations on the trees from every religion and sect. Encourage the diverse public to bring in those decorations. Make the tree bring cultures together. And shut up talk show hosts. So we can have peace and quiet.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

#420 Bone Chilling

I’m glad that cold spell is over. I confess, it got so cold I wanted a warm embrace from anything, even the whole concept of global warming. Personally, I stand to benefit, as the total melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland will make the ocean rise to such an extent that my home will be beachfront property. And the homeless problem downtown will be solved. Of course there won’t be a downtown, except in an extended Venice-like sense. I can see it now— Gondolas plying the waters of Fourth Avenue between the State Theatre and the Security Building. Talk about cultural appeal. And voila, the parking problem is solved once and for all. No cars.
In any event, the cold was too cold for my un-insulated bones. I mean, at one point it was so cold my nipples were hard enough to scratch glass. And driving down the icy freeway was murder. I was talking to my girlfriend on my phone and all of a sudden—jack-knifed semi. I’m here to tell you, jack-knifed semis make it hard to drive. It gets us every time. Light snow and then freeze. I heard a few out-of-staters, mid-westerners, chiding us about closing schools and whatnot just because we had an inch of snow. But this was one of those times that an inch does make a big difference. Because that inch got compacted quickly and unlike fifteen inches, when you know what you’re in for and can adjust accordingly, with studs, chains, or whatever, 1 inch puts you in the danger zone of slight melting next to the surface, which creates a super-frictionless interface. Add to that four-wheel drive but not four-wheel stop slippage, bald tires and crazy yahoos who think they can broadie their way to work caroming off the sides of school busses, and really, it is more dangerous. So it was a good idea to delay schools opening a couple of hours to let the idiots sort themselves out in the ditch. But it was cold. That northern wind would kick up and blow across the 3-inch drifts and man, my hands would freeze their Western Washington webs together. You know it’s cold when you use the tiny LCD screen on your cellphone to warm up your hands. Just that teensy bit of electronic nano-warmth is a blessing. And you pray for a call, so you can get the vibrator thingy to shake a little bit of blood back into your far extremities. And when you take the call you can put the slighter warmer phone to your frostbitten ear. It’s a shame long hair isn’t in fashion this winter. Although with my middle-aged wispiness there’s not much in the way of insulating capabilities left. And worse, if I were to wear a knit cap, instant hat hair. But still, there’s nothing like the look of everything after the first snowfall. So clean and white and new. You fall in love with the world all over again. Even if, after dealing with a jack-knifed semi, then slipping and sliding, and a bone-chilling brush with a little death, you see it from the bottom of a ditch.
America, ya gotta love it.

#419 Big Day

On the first shopping day of the holiday season Christmas crashed. No, dear old Saint Nick didn’t swerve the sled into a concrete abutment. Not like Rudolph’s red nose wouldn’t have got him pulled over for a little field sobriety test by the Xmas emphasis patrol. No, like most things this century, it was all about the computers. You may remember that last year there was footage of crazed people trampling one another on their way to a Wal-Mart doorbuster. Well apparently, some of the big retailers decided that was negative publicity they didn’t need. So, seeing the success of Ebay, some of the big box stores went little box. CPU-type box. They promoted cyber-Christmas in a big way. But they screwed up, because they did cyber-Christmas doorbusters. And it turns out electronic doors are easier to bust. Now first off, the “get up at the crack of dawn and wait for a store to open” phenomenon is a social tradition in itself. Seems like our society says the big reward for ma and the girls is to slave all day making turkey, stuffing, and the whole tryptophan sedative pharmocopia, encourage the menfolk to fall asleep to the football game and then the next morning, get up at the crack of dawn and shop like a maniac. Personally, if I got up early and worked all day slaving over a hot meal, the last thing I’d do the next day would be to get up even earlier and wait in the cold with a crowd of people whose chief motivator in life is greed. But that’s just me. I don’t like falling asleep to a football game either. Still, maybe this ancient tradition derives from the necessity for mom to drug dad so while he’s sprawled in a snorefest on the porko-lounger recliner she can sneak his bacon-earning wallet out of his pocket. Then get all that painful shopping done as budget conscious as possible before Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson know best. But part of the post-thanksgiving experience is the social aspect of all the bargain hens gathering. So it’s hard to conceive of folks getting up early to shop in their own home. Maybe that’s why corporate America wasn’t prepared. Forget for a moment the challenge of having a “first 50 shoppers get a free ginsu knife set” doorbuster when you live in a country with 4 time zones. You also got the whole international aspect of the internet. What’s to stop shoppers on the other side of the dateline from getting stuff yesterday? It’s also the fact that crowds suffer from physical limitation. You can only fit a few people through a door at a time. Translated to cyberspace that means you can only have so many shoppers in your data pipe at a time. Unfortunately, at the physical store that means you may get an occasional trampling but at least the store itself stays intact. In cyberspace too many in the pipe means the people survive but the whole store is destroyed. And Christmas crashes like a trainset assembled after too many eggnogs.
America, ya gotta love it.

#418 City Slickin

As you know by now, I’m a connoisseur of language, perhaps because language is often another type of sewer. It seems the words that are the worst get tossed out there and float down to the cesspool of slang which is the permanent repository of our linguistic and cultural heritage. I wonder that as many terms as do make it into our common parlance and to where the elegance of the past disappeared. I mean, fast-food words like spam and phat with a p-h-? Compared to the last century epicurean elegance of words like meat mélange and paramount? She is phat or her beauty is paramount? For shizzle. So occasionally, when I hear a new descriptor I roll it on my tongue like a new wine. Savoring its bouquet and letting the heat of my mouth release its delicate undertones. That’s how it was when I heard the phrase “Seattle is Metro-natural.” I kind of liked it. After the state’s aborted tourism slogan “Say Wa” and the whole WAMU thing with Washington Mutual and its new WAMU Theatre, Metro-natural sounded kind of kooky. Just so you know, Washington Mutual, when I hear the term WAMU theatre I always, and I mean always, expect to see Keiko playing there. Because really, it sounds like some kind of Seattle Seaworld thing, with killer whales balancing on human noses and beachballs flying everywhere. Metro-Natural has far more possibilities. First off, it kind of trades on that new gender/lifestyle designation, metro-sexual. Which I assume has something to do with urban tastes in the sexual arena as opposed, I guess, to suburban tastes. Sort of pitting the excesses of Suburban Housewives against the excesses of Sex and the City. By the way, I’m thinking something is definitely wrong with the quest for meaning of today’s women, when the two most popular shows on TV are about women in their mysterious pursuit of physical and psychological fulfillment. Add Dr Phil and Oprah and you can wring your hands all week long. Anyhow, Metro-sexual describes an anything goes personal posture that calls the shots as it sees them, shoots from the hip and struts its stuff to the sound of a driving retro-techno-disco beat. Move over rap, the Scissor Sisters say that disco’s back. Is it just me, or does this new group Scissors Sisters sound like some kind of roman church castrato thing? A la Bee Gees. So, on the face of it, using the term “metro” gives a certain energy to the proceedings. And using the term “natural” invokes our Seattle hippy heritage. A disco ball with macramé beadwork hanging from it. Polyester hiphuggers, big bells and a bong of colored glass blown by Chihouly himself. Lowered suspension, big tailpipes, and spinners—on a hybrid. Pot laced with ecstasy. A Nordstrom gift, wrapped in biodegradable unbleached craft paper. Sushi on a bed of brown rice and lentils. Soy lattes and—soy lattes.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

#417 Cough Please

I had another encounter with officialdom lately. And it was in the form of the health department. When I wrote about flu shots recently I minimized the importance of them. Those at risk stand to gain a lot by getting a weak form of the possible virus and having their immune system tool up. And really, it can help regular folk too. And not only help them, but help the workforce and economy as a whole. A massive hit from the flu disables countless workers and more than spoils holiday gatherings with hacking, wheezing, and phlegm-flinging relatives. So by all means, get your flu shot. Even if the shot you get may not be for the flu that arises, it’ll probably help a little. I was surprised when the lady from the health department cited statistics that indicate how strongly a pandemic would affect our workforce and how many small businesses will be not just decimated but 20, 30, and 40 percent-amated as well. Most small business have less than 5 employees. A healthy flu epidemic means that business is gonna be running on a skeleton crew. How’d you like your local dry cleaner to have even slower service? Or no one to chew gum behind the counter at the video store? It could get serious. But the cool thing about the health lecture, was the speaker told us all how to cough. What is it about coughing and medical practitioners? Is it because the word cough is based on some obscure Latin derivation? I mean, why else is cough spelled with a G-H- and pronounced with an F-? I suppose I’m used to doctors telling me when to cough. And for some reason having me look to my left or right while I’m doing so. And I guess I’m used to cold latex-gloved fingers touching me in sensitive areas at the same time. I’ve never really understood that part of an exam. I mean, I’m no anatomy expert, but I don’t have to go to the “Bodies” exhibition to know that coughing comes from the lungs, and knee-bone-connected-to-the-thigh-bone to the contrary, ain’t nothing connecting the lungs to the gonads. So why the doctor has to tell me to clear the air ducts while he’s weighing the family jewels seems like taking a house call a little too far if you catch my meaning. In any event, the health person talking about the flu told us all we shouldn’t cough or sneeze into our hands but should instead turn to the side and smother all our projectile mucus in the crook of our elbow. Which makes a lot of sense. People shake hands all the time. Then they touch their noses or eyes or other moist tissues on which bacteria and viruses love to grow and thrive. No one shakes elbows. I can’t remember when I actually touched the inside of another person’s elbow in polite company. But what’s cool is, now I can instantly find people who are polite company and care about others. When I want to find social responsible people with a cold or flu, I’ll just look for the caked-on shiny stuff on their sleeves.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

#416 Confirmation

Greetings from 0fficialdom, that world where less is more and less is even less. Except when it comes to gobbledygook and bureau-speak. I was watching a federal official on the tube the other night and he actually used the word gobbledygook. And it is gobbledygook, by the way, not the more wussy gobbledygoop. It’s not something you put on your hamburger, it’s a way of confusing the meaning of words. Like the word official itself. I got an “official” notice from the US Postal Service, formerly known as the US Mail. It didn’t change its name to engage in gender correctness, it changed its name to reflect its semi-private mission. And let me tell you, private is right. Recently, I changed residences, and in the process of doing so, I put in a change of address notice to the postal service. After about a week of bureaucratic slovenliness I finally got mail at my new address. The first piece I received was an official “change of address confirmation.” Wow, I thought, a confirmation, I hope I don’t have to wear a little white dress. It was an official-looking envelope from the postal service that had in bold letters on the front: “Verification Required, Do Not Discard.” As this was an official communication from a quasi-governmental organization, you can bet I hastened to not discard it. Interestingly though, the upper stamp corner said “pre-sorted first class mail,” which is usually the cheaper designation preferred by mass mailers. The mystery was soon revealed. When I opened the envelope to look for the official verification that I figured I was supposed to send back, all I found was an envelope full of coupons. They were coupons from local stores and chains, welcoming me to my new residence and introducing themselves with great offers, which I was sure to need in my new plane of existence. It reminded me of all the offers from private publishers and writing accessory companies I got when I filed my official copyright notice for my book. This privatization stuff means you can’t even send mail to the post office without getting on someone’s mailing list. In this case the mailing list of the postal service as well. I mean, holy cornhole Batman, I just wanted to change my address, not get an envelope fill of coupons. The envelope may as well have been blue and had Val-pak on the outside, it was those kind of coupons and that many. I finally found the verification notice that made me not discard the darn thing in the first place. It showed my new address, asked if this was my new address, then said if this is correct, no action is required. Well one action. I pitched the whole thing in the recycling. Used to be one of the best things about moving was it took a while for your junkmail to follow you. Not anymore. It’s the first piece you get, and it comes straight from the postal service. And that’s official.
America, ya gotta love it.

#415 Catch a Cold

So I came down with a little bug. It was inevitable. I mean, chances are good I would be susceptible to at least one of the many possible jillions of viruses that evolution throws at us slow-moving humans every day. And since it’s likely I had something relatively like it before, and since I keep my immune system at peak condition with exercise, the right foods, and staying up too late at night, I only got a small touch of it. But I’m sure it will pass quickly cause I watch my health and eat plenty of pizza. Yep, pizza. I read something interesting the other day. It was about the chemical lycopene. Lycopene, as you may remember, is much trumpeted as a valuable ingredient in ketchup. It’s always nice in the health-conscious marketing niche that a condiment can actually make such a claim. Ketchup, the much-maligned red cousin in the French fries infarction family, has got too much bad press. Especially when the lax government started trying to tell people that it counted as a vegetable in poor kids’ school lunches. Oh yeah, I remember that menu, Ketchup was a vegetable and turkey gravy counted as the meat on Thanksgiving. In any event, lycopene is a very powerful anti-oxidant, and, as everyone knows, anti-oxidants are against oxygen, which although it appears to be a good thing to have in your lungs is not good when hooked up with other molecules and floating around your well-governed bloodstream acting all free and radical. If you’re like me, you seek out natural sources for dietary things so you’ll be happy to know that you can get lycopene from tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, pink guava, papaya, and rosehip. However, the odd thing about lycopene is it actually gets better and more available to your body if you get it in processed food. That’s right, bucking the trend of all that’s natural and holistic, lycopene is better for you if you actually do get it in ketchup. Or canned tomatoes. And even better, your body can get even more of it if that processed tomato is added to oil-rich dishes like spaghetti and pizza. Is this not cool or what? You get a lot of free radicals from eating processed foods. But processed foods can help you get rid of free radicals. But not just any processed food. Hamburgers don’t qualify, unless you drench them in ketchup like a potsmoking preschooler. But pizza. Pizza the divine food. The food that is perfect anytime, hot, cold, or indifferent. The food you can carve out of the hairy mold in your crisper and still savor. The food you can dig out of the back of the couch cushions and still munch. Pizza is healthy. At far more tomato per pie squared, pizza is damn near a freaking health food. I haven’t felt this good since they found out red wine fights heart disease. Now will somebody please discover an anti-carcinogen in beer?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

#414 Callender Boy

Recently I’ve been trying come up with quicker meals, that don’t require a lot of preparation but are also healthy. That’s hard to do. Healthy usually means relatively fresh, not too many additives, and with lean meat and vegetables. Unfortunately, most prepared entrees are loaded with the preservatives that increase the shelf life of all American packaged meals. Funny, since a lot of those entrees are frozen. You’d think the freezing part would do all the preserving you’d need. So recently, I was at the grocery store and I saw a sign for Marie Callender pot pies. I thought hey, I bet that’s healthy, and grabbed two or three. I mean, if you’re like me, you grew up with those little Swanson chicken pot pies. They were the great fallback meal for my mom when she had some evening engagement and she wanted to feed our brood quickly. They were cheap too, like a quarter a piece of something back then. Well the Marie pie looked a little bigger but what the hey, I’m bigger, so I forked over the three-and-a-half bucks a piece and headed home. A couple of nights later I pull one out and find that it has this neat high tech special microwave reflector inside the top of the box and you have to cook the pie inside the box. Techno-meals are cool. I throw the box away afterwards, make a quick salad, toast a bagel and eat the entire meal. I feel strangely full. Too full. The pie, it turns out, has less vegetables than the picture on the box, and contains a lot of fairly salty sauce. It reminded me of a trip to the beach. I don’t add salt to my food so prepackaged food always seems a little like getting rolled in a wave and accidentally gulping a mouthful of seawater. A few nights later, I have another one and I’m really full again so I decide to look at the nutritional information of the microwave-mutilated box. At first glance, it’s only a little worse than I expected. Turns out one serving of Marie Callender’s Chicken Parmesan Pie has 530 calories and includes 32 grams of total fat. 12 grams of that is saturated fat. Which by the way is 60% of my recommended daily allowance. Total fat is 49% of my daily allowance. The salt? 720 mg of sodium, a mere 30% of RDA. And in the classic American sweet-salt blend the pie also contains 43 grams of carbs, 14% of RDA. Well okay, I thought. It is my big meal of the day and it is dinner. I can splurge a little. That’s when I looked closer at the “per serving.” The serving size is one cup. The servings per container are two. Uh oh. Each pie is two servings. That means 98% of my fat for the day, 60% of my sodium, 28% of my carbs and a whopping 120% of my saturated fat. So much for that healthy feeling of home cooking. The line on the box should have given me a clue. It said Marie Callenders, Inspired by Grandma. Oh yeah, that was the grandma that died of obesity, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries…
America, ya gotta love it.

#413 Concentrated Orange

There’s a couple that wants to reinvent the G.O.P and make love not war its credo. Actually, they might be using the acronym GOP—as in gop. Cause gop is the sound some people make when they arrive at the conclusion of their, um, personal encounters. I’m not comfortable using the word that these people are using to describe their upcoming event so I’ll just use a substitute. Hmm, organism is too long although it sounds similar. I remember trying to check out the book “The Myth of the Female Organism” one time and having the librarian look at me funny. That’s one good thing about Even though it’s named after a mythical Greek tribe of terrifying formidable women, it sure cuts down on something far more fearsome, prissy librarians. In any event, talking about people having long and pleasurable organisms would get too confusing. So I’ll just call them oranges. Everybody likes an orange. And sometimes, when they get to the sweetest part of the orange, they say gop. Sometimes, according to the organizers of this event, they reach a meditative, religious, and peaceful state. So the organizers want people to make love on the winter solstice and use that love to bring about world peace. Donna Sheehan, age 76, and Paul Reffell, age 55, want everyone to have an, um, orange on December 22, but do it while focusing on world peace, and if necessary baseball statistics. Sheehan was the lady who was behind getting fifty women to strip naked in 2002 and spell out the word “peace” which spawned a mini-movement called Baring Witness. Which, I guess, seeks to em-bare-ass people into doing things. Even in this day of bedroom webcams, nudity is an attention getter. So they call their event Global, um, Orange for Peace. Or GOP. Move over Ralph Reed, I think this kind of evangelism could catch on in more than a charismatic way. This would make even Karl’s thoughts rove to a different type of liberation. Interest appears strong in the Global Orange for Peace event with over 26,000 hits a day to their website at you guessed it, globalorange dot org. What else? (I knew that’s what org stood for.) But think of the spam you’re gonna get after visiting that website—Global investments, Global Viagra, Global lose 30 pounds. Add three Global inches. These people say they have studied evolutionary psychology and that war is a manifestation of males trying to impress potential mates. If everyone scores no one wars. What a pipe dream. It’s not about just mates. There are more than enough people in the world to pair up mathematically. It’s about competition over a limited resource of optimal mates. Check any bar at 1:45 AM. Event or no, the sad truth is the winter solstice is still gonna have lots of well-meaning, horny, and lonely peaceniks looking for someone to share an orange with. I can hear em now: “All I am saying, is give me a chance…”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

#412 Caution Stupidity

So I’m thinking at some point our educational system must have failed us. Everybody likes to blame the lawyers but someone has to be responsible for the stupid people that cause the accidents that attract the lawyers to begin with. And end up subjecting the rest of us to an endless parade of warning labels, warning brochures, and warning instruction pamphlets.
You know the ones I mean. Every time you buy a new appliance or tool the whole first few pages of the instruction manual are dedicated to how to plug the damn thing in, and riddled with warnings about how you shouldn’t use you new appliance while you’re in the shower or while you are sleeping. I literally had a warning notice with a handheld hair dryer that I bought, that cautioned me to not use it while I was sleeping. Man. I hope my subconscious got the message, cause if I’m sleep-walking sometime and I decide take a shower, I sure hope I don’t use that hair dryer.
So as I said, I’m thinking that in order to save paper, and in order to save trees, and perhaps save our planet when those tress suck all the greenhouse CO2 out of the atmosphere, maybe we could encourage the schools to offer a required course on basic appliance management. You know, safety tips. Elementary things, like don’t put your radio in the bathtub, try not to operate a chainsaw when you’re drunk, don’t fly a kite in a thunderstorm. Basic commonsense things that every kid should not advance to the next grade not knowing. Kind of a practical WASL—Washington Anti-Stupidity Learning.
Students could be given basic, practical, lessons in appliance management. Along with a list of who to call for questions and assistance. How to call a plumber instead of twist that nut. What to do when your hair drier starts sparking. Stuff like that. Students could watch horror films and see graphically and vividly how Freddy Kruger and others use unsafe electrical appliances to effect murder and gruesome mayhem.
It would sure save a lot of ink and paper. And it would possibly mean that I wouldn’t get the warning label I got the other day when I bought a lamp. That’s right, things have come to a sad pass in this country when you get a safety label on a lamp. I think I know how to operate a goshdarn lamp. But no. It turns out this lamp had a polarized plug. You know, where one side of the plug is wider than the other and it only fits into a plughole when you match up the wide plug to the wide hole. Duh. If I can’t figure out something as simple a plug in a hole is it going to do me any good to print out a 200-word warning label? Aren’t the chances good that a greater challenge than hole matching would be reading a whole sentence?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

#411 Card Bored

So I’m driving along the other day and I notice something odd on the street corner. For a minute, I think the elections are still on and the guy I’m watching is a candidate of some sort. Then I think, this must be some new and improved homeless guy, that he’s simply taken cardboard signs to a whole new level. Then my ancient brain, after cycling through all the familiar habitual alternatives, finally opens up enough to accept the one thing it’s most often not prepared to accept these days, the new. And different. One of the many perquisites of age is thinking you’ve seen it all. That you’ve got the whole world figured out and that nothing can surprise you. Not in this here world. The 21st century is the century of surprises, from Karl Rove finally kicking Rumsfeld to the curb to Ashley Simpson singing her own songs. So these guys on the corner were something new, proactive billboards. Moving, eye-catching, shouting, mobile, in-your-face billboards. They were holding up human-sized signs that just covered them enough so you didn’t have to make eye contact and personally connect with them and just small enough so they could hold them all day long. The signs appeared to be made out of that plastic corrugated stuff that is impervious to weather. Which was good. Except it was pretty windy and the signs were kind of acting like sails. The one guy I saw was chasing his in circles. Talk about trying a new tack to get your message out. I felt sorry for these folks. It was wet and windy and the rain was washing sideways in horizontal sheets. I mean, at least the hobos have a choice when the weather’s not fit for man nor beast. These poor people had to put on full raingear, hoods, boots and gloves and stand out in a Northwest November gale.
So being the ignorant guy that I am, I have to speculate about how they came to this extremity. Did they answer an ad? “Like working in the great outdoors? Tired of impersonal dehumanizing work flipping tacos? Able to hold things upright? Call 555-jobs-now. We’ll have you back on the street in no time.” And how thorough is the application process? Can you stand? Can you hold? Can you wave something? Do you have any political, religious, or psychological position to prevent you from looking like an idiot? And what’s the chances of career advancement? I mean, what do you put on your resume? Go getter, company person, looking to advance in a career of marketing and display. Can wave, wiggle, jump and appear enthusiastic in the worst weather. Available for political campaigns, one-day sales, store closings, and special, one-time-only, mattress inventory reduction events. Miming services for no additional charge.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

#409 Cringe

I recently had my first physical in about 22 years. It’s fun going in and having the nurses and staff look at you like you just fell off another planet just because you haven’t been in for every ache, pain, and sniffle. It’s not that I don’t have those things, it’s just that I figure doctors have more important things to do than hold my hand while my immune system does its stuff. Cause at the root of it all, I figure my immune system is kind of like the rest of my body. With adequate training, it will perform at optimum levels. They offered me two shots while I was there, a tetanus shot and a flu shot. I took them up on the tetanus shot since I live in an area that has horses and since my thin skin means I seem to get any number of cuts, nicks and scratches these days. Since I talk a lot in my profession, Tetanus is a real deal-breaker, lockjaw makes it tough to enunciate. I skipped the flu shot cause, what the hell, they have no idea what flu is really gonna hit this year and the one everybody’s afraid of, the pandemic bird flu, they have no shot for anyway. I figure if I keep my immune system fighting off the little crap on its own maybe when the big superbug comes down the line I’ll have half a chance. Lifting hundred pound weights may not help you clean and jerk a thousand pound piano but if one falls on you, you can at least hold if off you long enough to get out of the way. So after I get the tetanus shot they hand me an information sheet on the vaccine. It tells me what I should know about the vaccine, and what I should look for in the way of allergic reactions. Now, no offense to my medical office staff, but the principle of informed decision means I should have actually been given this handout before I agreed to take the vaccine. There was this great line in the handout that kind of summed the whole thing up. It said “a person who gets these diseases is much more likely to have severe complications than a person who gets the vaccine.” Well, yeah. A person who gets in a head-on car collision is more likely to suffer severe injury that the person who burns his hands over candles so he can’t drive. But I’m not volunteering for the Gordon Liddy treatment. It’s all about the chances of you getting the disease or not, ever, as opposed to definitely taking the vaccine and having a reaction. .03 people get a reaction to the vaccine. Reaction for people who never take the vaccine is .00. The final line on the handout kind of chilled me to the bone. Or maybe it was just the backless smock they had me put on. It said “In the event that you or your child have a serious reaction to the vaccine, a federal program has been created to help pay for the care of those who have been harmed.” Hmm. Someone actually determined there was need enough to create a costly bureaucratic federal program in a nation with no universal health care. Sounds perfectly safe to me.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

#408 Caplets Crunch

Previously I talked about the odd product recall of a generic brand of acetaminophen. Seems bits of metal were found in a number of tablets. The number was small, only 200 tablets in a grand total of 70 million run through a metal detector, but still. I’m sure I’d rather not be that point 00007 percent that broke my crown when I was trying to cure a headache—even worse if I was taking the drug for a toothache to begin with. Some unanswered questions linger. You may remember the metal fragments found in the pills ranged from microdot size to pieces of wire a third of an inch long. So first, how did the metal get into the pills? Is there a big vat of dried drug that’s all caked up and ready for a crusher before it gets shaped into a pill? Did someone accidentally dump in a box of paper clips? If so, what were office supplies doing in a clean drug room? Presumably, the drugs that you and I ingest are not just lying around picking up microbes. It’s not like we cook our acetaminophen before eating. If submarine sandwich workers have to plastic glove their hands I’m thinking drug workers need to have the whole white outfit regalia. So again, from whence cometh the metal? Did one of the workers have an orthodontia problem? Just got fitted out in a Nerdstein 2000 around-the-head mega-retainer, elastic strap breaks, mouth metal flies out, there go 200 pills? Maybe. Maybe the metal came from the pill-making machine itself. Some of them have the pressure of an industrial vise. Maybe something broke loose, a washer or screw perhaps—or maybe one of its nuts got in the vise. The larger question to me is: Had this sort of thing happened before? Because what really made me wonder was when they said they had run over 70 million tablets through a metal detector. Just happened to have a metal detector lying around did they? Standard issue in a drug manufacturing plant? Or are industrial mishaps common there? Well, guess what, this same company has had problems before. Since 1993, according to FDA records, Perrigo Company has had at least 32 other product recalls in all its plants. The company wasn’t exactly sure where the current heavy metal pills came from. Maybe their Iron Butterfly plant in Mexico. Or their Metallica plant in China. Definitely not their Jethro Tull plant in the United Kingdom. Still, it’s apparent the company is not at the tippy-top of safety records. I’m thinking they need either better worker supervision, or a search-before-entering program at least as efficient as the airlines or rock concerts. They seem to already have the metal detectors. Maybe they could wand their employees as well. Because just last May they recalled 59,000 drug bottles contaminated with acrylic mirror particles. Yep, mirror. I don’t know about you, but the idea of someone powdering her nose while she makes my pain pills is enough to give me a head ache.
America, ya gotta love it.

#407 Crunch

There was an interesting story in the news last week. And it had to do with Tylenol. Actually, that was an interesting sidebar story. The main story had to do with contaminated generic acetaminophen, but Associated Press editors, for whatever reason, chose to run a photo of the generic acetaminophen in question with a very clear image of Tylenol in the background of the photo. Tylenol made a big flap of course, as they should, and newspapers that had run the AP photo across the country printed retraction and apology notices. Again, as they should. In this day of digital editing and pixilated smudging, there is no way Tylenol’s name should appear anywhere. If they can smudge out the brand name of a beer on a rapper’s sideways baseball cap in constant motion, they can manage to black out the brand name of Tylenol if, in fact, Tylenol had none of the issues of the generic brand in question. But it does kind of make you wonder. What was AP thinking? Is this another example of the liberal media? Are they trying to get back at Tylenol for supporting the last regime? Lord knows it caused a lot of headaches. Were they a major campaign contributor as a result? Or was AP simply assuming Americans need a little relational help? Did they think that saying acetaminophen just wouldn’t quite get the point across without a “you know, like Tylenol” visual reminder in the background? We’ll never know. The actual entity at fault was a company called Perrigo. And they market generic acetaminophen tablets under various brand names to Wal-Mart, CVS, Safeway and more than 120 major retailers, according to the FDA. I wonder if one of them is Western Family. The problem? Apparently, metal fragments were discovered in numerous pills. That’s right, metal fragments. They ranged in size from microdots to portions of wire one-third of an inch long. Youch! “I had this headache doc, and I took some acetaminophen and then all of a sudden while they were in my throat, I started hearing a radio station in my mouth.” “I’m not saying there was lots of metal in my acetaminophen but after my last dose for muscle aches I started singing ‘I wish I had a heart’.” “Yes Mr. Coast Guard officer sir. I tried to cure my headache, my compass went wacky, and we crashed into this reef.” “No sir, I am not a terrorist sir. No sir, search all the orifices you like, sir. I don’t know why I’m setting off the metal detector. But my headaches gone.” Actually, not that far fetched. The company found the metal fragments by, according to them, running over 70 million tablets through a metal detector and turning up 200 contaminated pills. Far less than your average proportion of rat hair. Personally, I think Perrigo missed an opportunity. They shouldn’t have recalled, they should have just re-signed. “Today only, for the same low price, new for women, acetaminophen with iron.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#406 Capitation

In my hometown of Olympia there’s this place on the main drag that the city uses to display banners. It’s quite the learning experience. The banners used to be for major events like Harbor Days or Arbor Days and it was good to see the pictures on the banners because that way I could figure out which festival to bring a tree to. It was also kind of a passive way to keep up on community events. There’s no way every semi-festival, read-a-thon, food drive and craft bazaar can get total exposure in all the other media so the over-the-street banner is a nice supplement. Or at least it was until the city realized what a social engineering goldmine it had on the end of its poles. So, a little while back, banners started to appear of a decidedly less-than-community-festival ilk. The city can certainly qualify as a non-profit so why shouldn’t they too use the public venue to advertise things for the public good? And as the traffic on the street in question is the densest in town, and as that same traffic often finds itself standing still, what better way to cram a message down the gridlocked throat of the semi-literate. So soon we were seeing signs about sharing the road with bicyclists, and helping the city with raking out storm drains during the falling-leave, street-flooding season. And occasionally we’d learn to give road-workers a brake, and get screened for cancer and stuff. And lately there’s this new banner. It’s kind of clever and it comes with visual aids. I think it’s important to have international graphics just in case the possible offenders haven’t yet mastered elementary English enough to get the message. Especially since the message has a pun in it, (that was the clever part) and the last thing foreign language speakers learn is how to pun in their adopted language. The banner is for an anti-tree topping campaign and the slogan says: “You can’t top a healthy tree.” Get it? Like you can’t do better than a healthy tree—you can’t top a healthy tree and you can’t cut the top off a healthy tree either. The follow-up line “and still have it stay healthy” is implied. But with the picture of a tree being brutally decapitated compared to the picture of a tree fully rounded with vegitile pulchritude you get the implication. Apparently all the power workers and asplundh folks out there know what they’re doing and so are exempt from this banner. The message here is, don’t just top your own tree, call an arborist. On one note, it’s nice to see government getting out of our bedroom and into our gardens where it belongs. On another, I’m not sure about the tag line on the banner in question. It says: “Prune Responsibly.” Right. Prune responsibly. I’ll add that to my wish list: World peace, feed the starving children, prune responsibly. Prune it? I’m still trying to figure out where to buy the stuff. What is this responsibly stuff? My friend tells me all the TV ads say he should drink it.
America, ya gotta love it.

#405 Crazy Talk

My life appears to be a magnet for irony these days. I just got a press release that said this organization is having a first annual event. Another flagrant violation of the first annual rule. There is no such thing as the first annual; it can’t be annual until it has happened at least once. The first event in possible series of like events is called the inaugural event. So if a new President comes into office his ball is not called the first annual ball, it’s called the inaugural ball. And if election night returns leave Republicans across the land asking what the hell happened to our Contract with America, the answer is, this appears to be the inauguration of a whole new era. The winds of change have blown. Interesting little historical aside: three of the congressman who were blown out of office in the recent anti-mandate election were swept in to office on the Republican anti-mandate gale of the nineties, when Clinton suddenly found himself with a different kind of congress and staring into the vortex of impropriety-peachment or sex-peachment, or whatever. And those same three congressman were swept into power on the strength of the now nearly forgotten “Contract with America,” Newt Gingrich’s two-fisted brainchild that was in all the photo-ops. Remember Newt and his neo-cons holding up that big oversized contract poster thingy that looked like a winning check from Publishers Clearinghouse? America responded to the promise of cleaner government, more accountability, fiscal restraint, less taxes and so on. A kajillion dollars in deficit later, an Enron scandal or two, a little Mark Foley and his e-book of pages, and the public finding out how lobbyists have Jack Abramoffed about every congressman, and the contract appears to have been about as good as a pyramid chain letter. But there was one other thing in the Contract with America worth noting: It was implied when the Republicans took over congress that one of the reasons they were given the chance was because the public was tired of the evil Democratic congress and its old, set-in-its-seniority power-broking ways. The Republicans talked loudly and often about term limits. Term limits would cut out the dead wood of congress. Term limits would surgically excise the cancer of special interests and I-scratched-your-back-now-you-have-to-scratch-mine layers of obligation that sent many a Mr. Smith fleeing from Washington. Of course, such crazy talk vanished once the seats in the seats of power developed a decidedly right cheek. So the ironic thing is that these three congressman that were swept out last Tuesday were swept in on the term limits promise. Guess what? They’d each served 12 years. Which is 6 terms in congressional dog years. I guess the public finally took that limit thing in its own hands. Another ironic thing was the name of the organization that sent me a news release on its first annual event. The Literacy Network.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

#404 Colloquialism

I was talking to a guy yesterday, American by anyone’s standards, a fine upstanding member of his community, involved in a service club. But he was born in Denmark. Having spent his formative years there, he missed out on all those sayings that kids learn by osmosis in their native language. Words we all take for granted, like tough, and bitchen and gnarly. Words that are sometimes known as idioms and sometimes as colloquialisms. A dialect, a bit of regional patter, a turn of phrase, the slimy organic undercoating that makes our language American and not the spot of tea, up and down staircase-littered, English from England. I say, knock me up after I go to the loo won’t you, and we’ll meet in the tube. The guy expressed a little regret that he didn’t know Americanisms as if he’d grown up here. I tried to reassure him by pointing out there’s only one letter of difference between idiom and idiot but he didn’t get it. I’m not sure I did either. Idioms can also be like professional jargon. I was at a meeting yesterday where some of the speakers were from the government. Just a little heads up. If you’re at a meeting where they have break-out sessions, and one of the sessions features speakers from different departments of the government, take a cup of joe. The secret to being a good government administrator must be to learn how to talk in the most circuitous manner possible so as always to be circling the fairly simple point at hand but never quite getting to it. One of the speakers was so long-winded the next long-windiest speaker actually tugged his coat to warn him he was out of time. And so oblivious that he acknowledged he was out of time and then spoke for another 5 minutes. One speaker said that bureaucratic jargon was clogging state publications so they were going to rectify the problem. We have this new computer program, he said, and it’s going to help us implement the simplification plan by plaintalking everything. He actually used the word plaintalk as if it was a single word and then he used it as a verb. Like he was cutting something or chopping something. He was plaintalking it. Probably uses that new Will Rogers software or perhaps Davy Crockett-checker. The guy wasn’t even aware he was using bureaucratic jargon when he used the word plaintalk like he did. But it was fun watching the guy act as if his department was doing something meaningful to help the public. And to act as if he was saving costs for everyone with this massive computer assisted overhaul of state publications, when all they really need are good editors. With all the newspapers closing down, there ought to be a couple available. Offer them a permanent job with medical benefits, throw in a stale Danish like they had in the newsroom every morning and the state could probably get ‘em, um, dirt cheap.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

#403 Carrot Take

As I’ve mentioned before, part of my eat-five-servings-of-vegetables-and-fruit a day regimen is to eat about three fingers of baby-peeled carrots. I’m not sure what that is in ounces but that’s how much of a ziplock sandwich bag the carrots fill up. Frankly, I have a hard time meeting the five servings quota. Maybe if I cut back on the carrots I could work in a Brussels sprout or two and get closer—not that I would ever subject my delicate palate to a Brussels sprout. Baby carrots are fine but baby cabbages suck. I have one of those tongues with a greater-than-normal quantity of bitter-oriented tastebuds so I’m more sensitive to the bitterness in certain foods and beverages. Can’t drink coffee without sugar, can’t eat grapefruits, can’t abide Brussels sprouts. I even have a hard time being around someone who likes Brussels sprouts. I wonder if E-Harmony dot com has that as one of their compatibility factors. Do you like Brussels sprouts? You do? He doesn’t. Next. It’s funny I would be so sensitive to bitter things. I’m not a bitter person. I’m not sure what I am. I’m not really an optimist. Too much world has beaten that out of me. And for a while I was gonna jump on the pessimism bandwagon but I was afraid it would break down. Maybe I’m a romantic. I like to believe things will be good, but I sort of know it’s a pipe dream. So that’s why I’m a little miffed at my carrots. They make up a huge portion of my daily diet. Half my lunch to be exact. My baggie full of carrots and my Braeburn apple and lunch is done. And since I only eat a breakfast bar/snack bar thingy for breakfast I can eat anything in any quantity I want for dinner. But by that time my stomach’s so shrunk I can’t eat too much of that anyhow. Where was I? Oh yeah, starving. And thinking about the inconsistency in taste in my little factory-milled carrots. I don’t remember carrots tasting so bad when I grew up. And these carrots I buy are organic carrots too. You’d think it would be pesticides that make a carrot bitter. But no. Apparently, it’s other carrots trying to extract nutrients from the some un-chemically fertilized soil. Cause about every fifth carrot in the population is bitter as a widow with a lapsed life insurance policy. And it’s that weird organic bitter too. Like someone let the horses loose in the carrot patch. And they’d been drinking too much coffee. The thing is, the package proclaims that each and every one of these delectable mini-peeled carrots is crunchy, sweet, and ready to eat. Well, as any baseball hitter will tell you, two out of three ain’t bad. What are you going to do? Take back every carrot that’s bitter. Hardly. They got you. As long as they keep the bad ones to a smallish percentage, most people will go right on buying them. Cause that’s life. There’s always bad stuff. The secret is to keep down the percentage. Hey. That’s it. Maybe I’m a percentage-ist.
America, ya gotta love it.

#402 Clue-Haul

So I chanced to use a U-Haul truck not too long ago. I’ll share a few things that might give you what I didn’t have—a clue. U-Haul uses the lowball, add-on approach to moving rental: Suck you in with a tiny price and then pile on enough accessories that you walk out feeling like your moving load has lightened considerably—notably in your pocketbook. First thing they do is make you wait in line in an area loaded with “necessary” moving accessories. Oh, you say, I could use a bundle of those. The “those” you’re looking at are boxes and the sign on them says $2.32, which seems pretty cheap, until a quick mental calculation reveals that 10 of them will run you about 25 bucks. Then there’s the professional mover’s plastic. That’s the stuff they wrap around appliances to keep the doors from opening and the lids from popping up. Also good for dresser drawers. Cause everyone knows flying dresser drawers can kill. Once you get to the counter, you wait more, as they take phone calls and wait for slowpoke customers to inspect their trucks before they take them out. Finally, you tell the clerk you want a no frills ten-foot truck—19.99. Sure, she says, gets a key, then scans your bankcard and bills you 100 bucks. “100 bucks?” You say. “Mileage estimate and miscellaneous,” she says. You look at the breakdown and sure enough, she’s estimated 34 bucks for mileage, at 69 cents a mile, and then tacked on an extra 50 for miscellaneous. She hands you a little inspection card while you’re still confused, tells you to go inspect your truck, which is just now pulling in to the pick up area. The sight of the truck finally within your grasp fogs your mind. You take the card and, having no idea what you’re inspecting for, and not asking because she’s on the phone again, you go out, look in the back, and then hurry back in and sign up. You drive off relieved. Later, while you’re moving you notice, hey, this truck has a hand truck. Then you see the hand truck has a zip-tie seal on its bracket and realize if you use it you lose it. 10 bucks that is. You leave it alone and lift more instead. The next day you return the truck, and as per agreement, you fill up it with gas. It was full when you got it. Actually, it was about three quarters full. When you fill it, the gauge goes an extra quarter inch past the “F.” No worries, you’ve been cautious on mileage, so you expect half the estimate to be returned. When you check in, the same gal looks over your truck. She lifts the rear door, reaches in, and easily pulls the zip-tie loose from the hand truck. She gives you this look like you tried to pull a fast one and fake her out by putting a broken one back in place. She nails you for 10 bucks. Of course you can’t complain, you inspected it before it went out right? Right. I guess this is what they mean by taking an adventure in moving. I just didn’t expect to take it up the miscellaneous.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

#401 Common Usage

I went to a luncheon meeting the other day. It included the normal salad and fruit. As this is November, the main entrée was turkey. In this case, hand-carved turkey roll—packed in the last millennium, sliced fresh for flavor. Nothing like the keen and palate-stimulating effervescence of fresh-sliced nitrates. As it was a festive holiday meal, it featured two, count ‘em, two, starches. Potatoes and stuffing. With my sourdough roll that made three. The mashed potatoes appeared to have little bits of ham in them but I hurried to counter the effects of too much protein by dousing them in gravy. Which, as anyone who has ever made gravy knows, is essentially fat and flour. Flour, in case you’re counting, is another starch. Thank goodness the melon chunks in the fruit plate were simple sugars. All those carbohydrates are enough to make a person nod off by the time the speaker comes up at the meeting.
When I woke up, this guy was droning on about the challenges faced by today’s community colleges. How because they are technical colleges they need more technology than your average school but because they are essentially junior colleges they don’t get the budget from the statehouse. How they don’t get the big college money from athletic revenues. Not to mention the huge amounts of money alumni organizations earn every year and contribute to their alma maters. It’s kind of a shame in a way. Take some up-and-coming young bio-entrepreneur. He gets his first two years of college out of the way on the cheap, then transfers to a university with an advanced degree program, invents something new and wonderful, like a rhinovirus blocker, makes a gajillion dollars, then bestows his university with a big chunk of tax-sheltered money. Poor old junior college, which got the process underway to begin with, gets lost in the dust of the past. Like some poor married schmuck who makes all kinds of sacrifices, in money, stress, and time to send his wife to college so she could increase her confidence, better herself, and they could improve their income and when she just about has it complete, out the door she goes. How do the Japanese put it? Sayonara sucker. Anyhow, the speaker spoke in bureaucratic jargon. He said his college was visioning for the future. Apparently, that’s a process where you create a vision. I’m not sure, I was a little drowsy. When asked about non-profit administrator training he replied they were “definitely under-producing non-profit administrators.” Makes something negative sound so positive, doesn’t it? I would have said they were not producing. He said they are under-producing. I like the spin. No, I’m not drunk officer, I’m under-producing sobriety.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

#398 Hobo Rider

So the other day I was driving around, sometimes staying home loses its appeal. As I guess was the case with the hobos I saw—sometimes called the homeless, although I would assert there’s a distinction. My definition of a hobo is someone who is homeless by choice. At some point, the lust for the open road fixed itself to his soul like a lamprey on a shark’s belly and he hasn’t been home since. Even if he’s tried. The problem with that wanderlust is when you do try to go home, sometimes there ain’t a home left. You’ve drunk yourself into your hobo oblivion and when you try to pick up the pieces of your life all the pieces have moved on. I bear no special fear or hate of hobos, I’m not hobophobic, but sometimes I’m in awe at their incredible resourcefulness as urban campers. It gets pretty rainy in Washington yet they always seem to have a fresh new cardboard sign. Some even with poetry. “Down on my luck, can you spare me a buck” is one of my favorites. I think I saw a British hobo the other day. His sign said: “Give me a crown and I’ll get out of town.” Maybe he was Canadian and had to hitchhike back north for some healthcare. I’m amazed at the ingenuity of the average bum. They seem to have adequate weather-specific clothing, an endless supply of cigarettes, or at least extra long butts, and if I’m not mistaken, that brown paper bag they keep pressing to their lips contains an energy drink of some sort. So really, if you ask are the necessities covered, it looks like they are. And if freedom is defined as covering the necessities but doing what you want, then I guess you could say they are free. Unless you mean free to walk into, say, the theatre or a restaurant and not be greeted by disapproving eyes. But they have appeared to solve at least one dilemma. Transporting their stuff without stealing a shopping cart. Shopping carts are unwieldy at best. Not to mention that police folk wonder if you legally acquired them. The solution? Skateboards. Yep. Drive downtown sometime and see how many older established bums are now darting around on skateboards. Ho-boarders. Probably lifted them from stoned, not-paying-attention teenage thrashers. And now they keep them with them every moment, lest one of their brethren of the road lift in turn. They use them to move their piled on belongings. Once the belongings are stashed they carry the board safely through the day with not much effort. And even take an occasional fun ride down the sidewalk. Happiness isn’t all booze. Yesterday this hobo rider came to a stop next to me, kicked up his board, caught it under his armpit, and took a pull from his bag in one smooth movement. I smiled in appreciation and gave him a thumbs up. He gave me a gap-toothed smile in return and slurred confidently, “I could do a 360 olley if I didn’t have this bum knee.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

#400 Cool-inary

I once was a cook in a restaurant. We were new in town so we were very interested in the reactions of our customers to our food. We had this one guy who came in about every lunch. He gobbled, literally gobbled, down his food, with loud, smacking, gustatory grunts of satisfaction. It was pretty obvious this guy liked what he was eating. Had another guy, he was pretty quiet. Took smaller bites, seemed to take more time chewing, looking off into space with what appeared to be an expression of appreciation, but it was hard to tell. Never actually ate the whole plate, but would always ask for a doggy bag. One time I asked him what he did with the leftovers. “I eat them later on,” he said, as if my question was a stupid as it sounded. “Your leftovers are almost as good as when the meal is fresh.” I guess you could call it a complement. But it was hard to get. It was a slightly more involved and considered opinion than, say, loudly emptying the plate inside of five minutes. So part of me was content to gratify the gobbler but part of me wanted to please the picky eater. What finally decided it was when I was out at another Italian restaurant one night doing some industrial spying. The plate of food I had in front of me, a combination of spaghetti and lasagna, was nasty to the nth degree, the sauce was burnt, the meat in it tasted half rancid and the noodles had gone past al dente somewhere in the previous decade of over-boiling they must have been subjected to. You’ll never guess who came into the restaurant. The gobbler. He ordered what appeared to be the same dish I had. And when it came to his table, reeking of too much oregano, he gobbled it down with all the grunts, lip smacks, and general hog slopping he did at my place. I’ve gone for the picky eaters ever since. Because I realized, if I want to be good at something, I need to be tested in a hotter crucible. To make another analogy: Banging out an iron sword is relatively easy. Forging steel is hard. Iron melts at a lower temperature and is easier to work with and mold to the desired shape. Steel is a lot harder to work but the results are so much more satisfying. Because steel lasts and lasts. It doesn’t chip, warp and lose its shape, it holds an edge, it doesn’t get rusty, and it doesn’t snap off just when you need it the most. So if I wanted to be good at cooking, I needed customers who would tell me the truth. I needed a critic, not a gobbler. And so the epicurean connoisseur that ate his food slowly and silently savored every bite became my best customer. I asked him once if he’d ever been to the restaurant where I had seen the gobbler wolfing down that horrible mess. He said once. He felt sick for a week afterwards. “At least they’re cheap,” I said. “Yeah,” he said. “I can get you a big heaping plate of cowpie. For free. But free cowpie is still¾cowpie. You get what you pay for.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

#399 High Fibe

They say that cleanliness is next to godliness. And so it can be said for the colon. Because regularity is next to godliness as well. People who are stove up exhibit all manner of strange personality characteristics. Perhaps because the toxins linger too long in the lower gut and get reabsorbed into the bloodstream and from there get deposited in liver, kidneys, pancreas, and endocrine glands. The main job of the large gut is to reabsorb the fluid component of what is loosely called chyme and transform the resulting semi-dehydrated mass into discrete lumps known as feces. But the survival of the feces depends on many factors that move it along to its eventual extrusion if not extinction. Or I should say the survival of the good health of the person doing the extruding. Notably, you need to move it along. If you don’t it’s like a shoe sitting in a puddle. Eventually its components break down and get dissolved into the solution. In the case of the gut, when that fluid gets reabsorbed all manner of biological consequences ensue. Of course I’m simplifying here. I’m not a doctor and if I was, I think I would choose another area than the colon in which to specialize. I got one of those internet joke lists the other day. This one purported to be from doctors who had conducted colonoscopies. The statements on the list were supposedly from patients undergoing the procedure. Which, as you may imagine, is intrusive to a large degree, since it involves shoving an instrument into a fairly private area. Having a doctor go spelunking in the cave of your gut is, to say the least, a lesson in intimacy. The comment on the list I most appreciated was the patient who muttered: “Now I know what a muppet feels like.” In any event, one of the secrets to good colon health is fiber. And that’s why each day I eat a bunch of another great invention, baby peeled carrots. At first I was amazed that they were able to train babies to do such a thing. After realizing that there wasn’t a pre-toddler child labor force in Bangladesh or somewhere, I was amazed they were able to find so many carrots that were baby size. The bag of carrots I have actually says mini-peeled carrots so other people must have made the same mental miscalculation. Then I realized this was an example of a more sophisticated technology. These carrots weren’t small to begin with, they were the equivalent of carrot lumber. That’s right, the same technology that fashions logs and boards and veneer in our venerable timber industry is being used, in miniature, to fashion tiny carrot logs. Like they got these H.O. scale mills, turning carrots on a lathe-like device and fashioning perfect little fiber-filled logs ready to be popped in your mouth, chewed up, run through the system and then reconfigured into their nearly original form. Don’t believe me? Type in carrot slash colon dot com and log on for more info.
America, ya gotta love it.

#397 Holy Water Batman!

When they look back from some distant time they probably won’t notice but one of the most significant things about the 21st century is available right now at your local Costco. No, I’m not talking about frozen pizza mini-quiches or six mattresses bundled in one shrink-wrapped package. I’m talking about bottled water. I have here in my hand a coupon and it’s actually from Fred Meyer. It’s one of those coupons the cash registers automatically spit out at the end of a transaction. Usually for something you’ve just bought and don’t plan to buy again for a while. You know, you just purchased the mega half-yearly size of Windex refill and out comes a coupon for it that expires next month. Anyhow, this coupon was for bottled water—apparently the Fred Meyer brand, as the name was First Choice water. First Choice water and Costco water and Western Family water all taste pretty much the same to me, which is not necessarily good, but far better then the chlorinated stuff currently coming out of my faucet. Don’t get me started on that. Cause the bad thing about chlorination at the faucet is it also means chlorination at the tube that leads into my refrigerator, which means chlorinated ice, which means that even if I do use bottled water for drinking I still have to cool it with poison ice. All because the city is worried about a few coliforms. Well you know what? Coliforms make a lot better tasting ice. Anyhow this coupon for bottled water at Fred Meyer was for a whole dollar off any 35-pack of water. So setting aside for a moment whether that meant 1, 2, or 4 bottles free, why would anyone produce anything in a 35-pack? I don’t know of any other product that comes prepackaged that isn’t divisible by two or four. You got your dozens, your six packs, your 24 to a case. Why 35? Our country is not built to survive on items packaged in multiples of 5. Like the classic observational humor: Why do hot dogs come in packs of 6 and buns come in packs of 8? Are the 2 extra buns are for people who just want to have a sauerkraut sandwich and hold the dog? But at least somewhere down the line, say at 24, you can even the whole thing out. 3 packs of buns and 4 packs of hot dogs and voila, everyone gets to do the tubesteak boogie. There is something incredibly un-American about packaging things in a group of 35. In fact, it sounds almost French. Maybe even Canadian. Like they’re tired of that whole American cultural hegemony thing and they’re not only going to print their labels in French and English instead of Spanish and English like us, they’re going to use whatever multiple they want when they package the stuff too. Take that America. We’ve got curling and tundra and Anne Murray. We’ll pack our water any dang way we want. And we’ll fill it with the amount of fluid we want too. So this time you can follow the liter.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

#396 Horror Help

I’m never much concerned about Halloween and all that spooky supernatural stuff. Reality has all the horrors anyone will ever need. And the most horrendous of them all is age. Forget about the living dead, it’s the living-still-living that’s really scary. For many men and women midlife hits around fifty. Funny, since most of us never live to be anywhere close to 100, so 50 is really post-mid-life. Some get a jump on things and start around 45. In this case the early bird doesn’t get the worm. Unless by worm you mean five extra years to be miserable. At fifty-four I’ve been tumbled through most of the mid-life crisis wave. Mid-life, like adolescence, should be one of those recognized phases of development you read about in all the parenting books. Unfortunately, there is no specific set of guidelines to help, only books that deal with the effects of mid-life—the wandering eye, the is-this-all-there-is, the I-just-want-to-be-young-again personality spurts caused by fluctuating hormone levels. Hormones for both males and females wildly oscillate during this period. Sex drives soar and plummet, hot flashes abound, and anger flares. The whole world starts to look like it’s conspiring against you to make you bitter, unhappy, and worst of all in my case, a constant grouser. The tendency is to chuck everything, throw out the baby, the bathwater, and the bathtub. What’s funny is that on the other end of the hormone fluctuation spectrum we have teenagers. And everyone knows that’s going to be a wild ride. But everyone who has ever had a teenager emerge into adulthood knows that they do come out of it and they are a lot easier to live with when they do. All of the books and counselors seem to agree that the best course through adolescence is to let your kids know you care, rein in their excesses with some judicious restrictions, and keep a firm and steady course yourself, lest your teenager sense weakness and do their best to drive a wedge into the family unit. Us oldsters face a similar path. Unfortunately, we don’t have any parents to say hold on, it’ll get better. So we rant and rail and challenge each other to see who can get highest on the mood swings before we jump off, and generally crush anything or anyone stupid enough to stand in front of our hormone steamroller. It’s too bad all the “self help” people, the psychologist equivalent of televangelists, don’t offer a praise God and an Amen to get us through. But no, the self-help industry is dependent on people needing help just like churches are dependent on sinners. And like some doctors, they can make a lot more money treating symptoms than offering a cure. Self-help authors would put themselves out of business if their advice were that good. And, horrors, they’d be thrust back into writing bosom-heaver romances. Whenever I look at a self-help book, I look up a bio on the author. Funny how few of them are happy.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

#394 High Gene

There was this old scientist named Lamarck who had some theories about genetics. He believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Giraffes, he maintained, had longer necks because successive generations had stretched to reach the tallest leaves. Like me doing pushups every morning would somehow convey to my unborn son the proclivity to do pushups every morning. Come to think of it, my dad did pushups every morning. Hmm. In any event, along came Darwin’s natural selection and Lamarck’s theories were relegated to the scientific backwaters like Cosmopolis to Aberdeen. All the good wood went to the big Darwin harbor. But, what goes around comes around, or as scientists say, orbits happen. Because today a new science is emerging that may actually lend some legitimacy to Lamarck’s claims. It’s called epigenetics and it promises to be all the things genetics was not. Think for a minute. They talk about unraveling the human genome and the possibility for gene therapy but really, what are they gonna do? A lot of genetic diseases don’t show up till late in life. What’s the plan, take a gene out of your DNA when you’re forty years old? Not gonna happen. So if you’re stuck with the Alzheimer’s gene, tough luck, you might as well just forget about any therapy along with everything else. But epigenetics is a different matter. Turns out the kajillion genes we have aren’t all operating all the time. Some turn on at some times, some others. When a gene is turned on, or expressed as they say, it functions as its code dictates. But if it’s turned off it just sits dormant. Like a dandelion waiting to burst out the second you’ve cut your lawn. Gene expression is the real key to the genetic code. That’s why we don’t have anuses on our nipples or liver cells in our mouths. Uh. Liver. One method that makes gene expression happen is methylation. It’s your body’s way of turning genes on and off using methyl groups that lock up certain molecules so other molecules can’t get in and tell a gene it just needs to express itself if it wants to be true and free. Scientists took genetically fat white mice and through methyl group manipulation alone bred the next generation to be skinny and brown. No genes were removed or altered. Only methyl groups. And it lasted for four Lamarckian generations. But the great thing is, methyl groups mean that actually point-of-sale gene therapy is possible. If you know the map, you can actually go in and tell Gene X-243 to shut the heck up and voila, no more Parkinson’s. Of course, a good map is the thing. Medical science thought estrogen therapy was the key to menopausal osteoporosis too. It’s a natural selection, they said. Till that whole heart failure thing started dropping middle age women like flies. Now they say the key to preserving bone density is resistance training and, guess what, stretching. Lamarck, get set, go.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

#393 Haachoo!

Science works in mysterious ways. We all like to think the great innovations in technology and drugs came from patient, trial and error experimenting. The living proof of the scientific method: form a hypothesis based on quiet contemplation; devise an experiment to test the hypothesis; document the results; change one variable at a time in the experiment; arrive at either a confirmation or a rejection of your hypothesis. If a confirmation, devise another series of experiments and eventually propound a theory, which can be tested and duplicated by your scientific peers. Unfortunately, or perhaps I should say fortunately, that’s not the case. Fortunately, because most scientific breakthroughs involve fortune—as in good fortune, as in chance, as in serendipity. Serendipity, that random coming together of things that ends up being good, not the gel used by today’s Ryan Seacrist wannabees, that leaves their hair oh so perfectly tousled, Serendipity-doo. Like when penicillin was discovered in bread mold. The greatest antibiotic of the 20th century. The first great broad spectrum antibiotic. The first in a salvo of drugs that kept us one step ahead of the bacteria—for a while. Until we shot our antibiotic wad, untrained our immune systems, and the superbug swooped into the hospitals to be the single biggest cause of death. But bread mold, whodda thunk it? How many potential discoveries have I thrown out just because it thought it was rotting food? An early alchemist stored buckets of urine in his cellar, hoping it would turn into gold—if only because his neighbors paid him to get rid of it. Instead, it turned into a glowing goo that finally burst into flame. The element phosphorus had been discovered. Not to worry, phosphorus is only in urine is small quantities. A lot of distillation and dehydration is required for it to dry down to the point of bursting into flame. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to drink lots of water. The same guy that discovered penicillin, Alexander Fleming, also found an antibiotic enzyme in nasal mucus when he accidentally sneezed into a petri dish culture. Oops. His snot kept the microbes in the dish from proliferating. Apparently nasal mucus contains an antibiotic substance. Which problem explains why my shirtsleeves never get infected. But there’s that serendipity thing again. What are the chances that the guy who discovers an antibiotic in nasal mucus would be named Fleming. And in 1992 they did a drug trial on welsh miners. Miners as in diggers, not as in underage persons. Good too, because the drug was supposed to treat angina. Didn’t work too well. But the miners reported an interesting side effect. Or should I say front effect? Cause the drug was sildenafil citrate, now better known as Viagra. Hmm. Could be a great ad jingle. Was a miner, had angina, so his love she had to pine. But Viagra made him finer, so he would love Clementine.
America, ya gotta love it.